Do tortoises see in the dark? -

Do Tortoises See in the Dark? Here’s What the Science Says

I often notice that one of our tortoises loves to walk around when it’s dark. We don’t normally think of tortoises as nocturnal animals so I got really curious whether or not they have night vision (and if so, why would they need it). Here’s what I found out!

Do tortoises see in the dark? Tortoises do have night vision, and are able to see in the dark when they need to. This is due to the extreme amounts of rod cells they have in their retinas in comparison to humans as well as most other animals.

Most people would be surprised to learn that tortoises are able to see in the dark. To make up for the senses that they seem to lack, most species of tortoises can find their way around at nighttime. Keep reading to get all the details on the sensory abilities of these interesting little animals.

Do Tortoises Have Night Vision?

Tortoises are very versatile animals that can be found in various environments around the world, from deserts to lakes and even tropical swamps. Of course, some tortoises are kept in tanks and in enclosures as domestic pets.

Since most types of tortoises are most commonly found in the wild, meaning outdoors, it is correct to assume that they would have some kind of night vision.

When the sun goes down and they are left to fend for themselves and protect themselves against predators, how do they navigate through their habitats? Perhaps they just curl up in their shells at night and wait until the morning to emerge again, right?

While this seems like a possible solution, it could not be any further from the truth. In fact, tortoises are very resourceful animals.

Due to their small size and vulnerability to larger predators that would like to eat them as a quick snack, they have to be able to adapt to changing environments in order to survive. This is not a surprise as according to the science of palaeontology, tortoises have been around for about 200 million years. That’s a long time to adapt for survival.

So How Does a Tortoise’s Night Vision Work?

  • They have large number of rod cells in retinas help them see in the dark
  • They navigate and find food in the dark
  • They detect predators and other possible dangers to seek safety

Tortoises’ eyes are able to adjust to the dark, which allows them to see clearly at night almost as they would during the day. This is due to the large number of rod cells they have in their retinas.

The additional rod cells that are built into the structure of their eyes help them to continue to see even when it gets dark. They use this ability to their advantage in various ways, from finding food to hiding from predators that lurk through their habitat in the late hours of the night.

Rod cells are photoreceptors that are located within the retina of the eye. The retina is the back layer of the eyeball that is made up of light-sensitive cells. These cells include rods, which are responsible for providing visual images at low light levels, converting what is available into a visual image.

The human eye does not have nearly as many rod cells, and that is why we are not able to see anything when the darkness reaches a certain level.

Tortoises, on the other hand, are able to make their way through their environment without stumbling in the dark with the help of the additional rod cells in their retinas.

Additionally, tortoises’ night vision makes up for what they are lacking in other senses.

How Strong Is a Tortoise’s Sense Of Sight?

Since tortoises are able to see in the dark with night vision abilities, you might be wondering how good their sight is in general. Tortoises have a great sense of sight, both during the day and at night.

Tortoises can see the world in color, recognizing a full color spectrum from ultraviolet to red. They will usually be looking down directly in front of them as they walk throughout the day, whether they are navigating through their habitat or trying to find food.

As a result, they are able to see very clearly since they are pretty close to the ground when they get moving.

Their clear, colorful sight and close proximity to the subjects they are looking at translates to a relatively good sense of sight for tortoises. Along with their regular vision  abilities, their night-vision gives them an additional advantage when avoiding predators and finding food of their own at any time of the day or night.

The Senses Of a Tortoise

As mentioned in the previous section, a tortoise’s ability to see in the nighttime makes up for their lack of senses in other areas. To be more specific, tortoises are somewhat hard of hearing, and will only respond to a few particular noises such as their own eggs hatching and mating signals of other tortoises.

In place of their limited hearing abilities, tortoises adapt to their disability by responding to vibrations in their environment. The combination of the flexibility of their necks as well as their amazing vision helps them to compensate for what they are lacking in other areas.

The list below will give you a general idea of the sensory abilities that tortoises have. You might be surprised to learn that tortoises actually have a loose sense of time, and can somehow use the signals from their environment to make these inferences.

Tortoise Senses:

  • Sight
  • Night vision
  • Can sense vibrations
  • Loose sense of time

How Strong Is a Tortoise’s Night Vision?

Although tortoises do have the ability to see in the dark when the sun goes down, it does not necessarily mean that their night vision is as strong as their day vision.

The Truth About Tortoises’ Night Vision:

  • Night vision is not as sharp as day vision
  • Not used as frequently as day vision

As mentioned earlier, tortoises are able to see a full spectrum of color as they walk around during the daylight hours.

In addition, everything that they look at throughout the day is usually right in front of them on the ground, so they do not have to strain their eyes too much to focus on their target.

The sharpness of their night vision is not as finely-tuned as their day time vision, due to the fact that they rarely need to use it. Most species of tortoises are diurnal animals, meaning that they are most active in the day time. As a result, they will not usually roam around in the night time as much as they do when the sun is out.

In other words, tortoises can physically use this characteristic, but do not necessarily have to. So, a tortoise’s night vision abilities will only be utilized in special circumstances, most likely for short periods of time.


So tortoises are, in fact, able to see in the dark with their special night vision abilities. This directly comes from the increased amounts of rod cells that are located within the retinas of their eyes.

Although they can see in the dark, their night vision is not as sharp as their daytime vision, due to the fact that these diurnal animals will rarely have the need to use it.

Related Questions

Do tortoises like music?Although their hearing is not as good as their vision, tortoises can actually learn to respond to certain sounds! Check out this fun article about tortoises and music: “Do tortoises like music?”

What makes a tortoise a tortoise? Check out this article about the anatomy of these fascinating creatures.

Scroll to Top